K-9 Veterans Day
annually on March 13th (since 2008)
Joseph J. White in 2008
Joseph White, a retired military working dog trainer, came up with the idea for K-9 Veterans Day. By his efforts, his home state of Florida recognized the day in 2009. Other states have since recognized it as well, although it has not been recognized on the national level. The day is dedicated not only to K-9 veterans of the military, but also to customs dogs, search and rescue dogs, police dogs, border patrol dogs, and secret service dogs. March 13 is the date of the holiday because the K-9 Corps was created on March 13, 1942. The Quartermaster Corps of the Army began training dogs on that date, making it the moment when dogs officially became part of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Three months before Pearl Harbor, U.S. Army Sgt. Robert H. Pearce started a small K-9 command program at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, Los Angeles. He brought Hollywood dog trainer Carl Spitz on board. (Spitz was known for owning and training a Cairn Terrier named Terry, who was best known for playing the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz.) In January of 1942, they began asking people in Los Angeles to bring their dogs to Pershing Square to be used in the war effort. Over 1,000 dogs were brought, including Rudy Vallee's Doberman Pinscher, King, and Mary Pickford's German Shepherd, Silver. The program was known as Dogs for Defense. These dogs would go on to be used by the K-9 Corps.
Originally, thirty breeds of dogs were accepted by the K-9 Corps, but this was narrowed down to seven: German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, collies, Belgian Sheepdogs, Doberman Pinschers, Eskimo dogs, and Malamutes. New dogs were first given obedience training. They were then given additional training to be a scout or patrol, messenger, sentry, or mine detector. Within eight to twelve weeks they completed their training. The original idea was to have 200 dogs in the K-9 Corps, but by the end of World War II, the number had ballooned to more than 10,400. Most of the dogs were family pets.
Although dogs were first formally trained for military service during World War II, they have been used in war since antiquity. More recently, some were used informally during the Civil War. During World War I, the German, British, and Belgian armies used them to pull carriages and wagons loaded with guns and supplies, to pull telephone lines, to carry messages, and to comfort those who had been injured. About 7,000 dogs were used in World War I, but not only a few of these were from the United States.
As of the late 2010s, over 2,500 dogs actively serve in the military, and about 700 are deployed overseas. Military dogs sniff out bombs and weapons, search and patrol, perform guard duty, and serve as companions to those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Military dogs are usually German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, or Labrador Retrievers. Dogs in the military now can receive medals and awards, and they often have retirement and memorial services held for them. In law enforcement, dogs began being used more in the 1970s. These dogs patrol, perform search and rescue missions, and detect drugs, explosives, cadavers, and arson accelerants. Dogs in both military and law enforcement roles, as well as dogs in other similar official roles, are all honored today.
How to Observe K-9 Veterans Day
Here are some ideas on how to celebrate the day:
- If you have, work with, or train a military dog, law enforcement dog, or dog in a similar role, make the day extra special for them.
- Contact your representatives and encourage them to support a K-9 Veterans Day on the state or national level.
- Support K-9 Courage, a group that provides healthcare assistance to retired police and military dogs, and gives support to service dogs who assist veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. You could help raise funds or have your own dog participate in "Dogs Salute Dogs."
- Learn about notable dogs who have served in the military, such as Sgt. Stubby, Chips, Lex, and Cairo.
- Visit a memorial dedicated to dogs, such as the War Dog Memorial at the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California; the War Dog Memorial in Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York; the National War Dog Cemetery and War Dog Memorial at Naval Base Guam; The Pennsylvania War Dog Memorial; or the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument in San Antonio, Texas.
- Visit Sgt. Stubby, who is stuffed and on display, and covered with a blanket that holds his medals, in an exhibit titled "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" at the National Museum of American History.
- Watch a movie or documentary about military or police dogs such as Max, Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, War Dog: A Soldier's Best Friend, Megan Leavey, or War Dogs: America's Forgotten Heroes.